Green Party accused of facilitating fossil fuel expansion as exploration licence off west coast extended

Extension of Europa Oil & Gas licence to 2026 of enables exploration of Inishkea gas field, estimated to be larger than the Corrib field

The Green Party has been accused of facilitating fossil fuel expansion in Ireland when oil and gas production should be phased out rapidly following a decision by Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan to extend an exploration licence for a large area adjoining the Corrib gasfield off north Co Mayo.

“Eamon Ryan’s decision to extend the exploration licence for the Inishkea gasfield is another historic sell-out by the Green Party in Government that has abandoned its environmentalist roots,” said People Before Profit climate and environment spokesman Paul Murphy. “Environmental activist groups like Safety Before LNG are vehemently opposed to this decision.”

Mr Murphy said that as recently as 2017, when he was in opposition, Mr Ryan “introduced the Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill, which sought to completely ban the renewal, reinstatement or extension of any licence for the exploration of all forms of petroleum, including natural gas”.

“Now in Government, as the Minister with sole responsibility for making the decision, he is doing the exact opposite and extending Europa Oil & Gas’s exploration licence to 2026. This one decision could lock us in to fossil fuel use for decades, and completely undermines the Government’s own climate action plan. Europa Oil & Gas claims the Inishkea gasfield is potentially bigger than Corrib and could keep the [nearby] Bellanaboy gas terminal open until 2050 – long past its scheduled closure date of 2030-2035.”


He called on Mr Ryan to “reverse this terrible decision immediately, and commit to extending the existing ban on new licences for fossil-fuel exploration to a complete ban on existing licences as well”.

“The Government should be concentrating on rapid State development of renewable energy, not gambling on fossil-fuel exploration by private oil and gas companies that will sink us ever deeper into climate chaos.”

Europa Oil & Gas confirmed its licence in the Slyne basin has been extended following approval from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. With permission to extend the initial phase of studies to January 31st, 2026, “Europa intends to use the extra time to carry out further technical studies, and allow more time to secure a development partner,” it said in a statement.

Its chief executive, Will Holland, added: “Given the proximity to existing infrastructure, a discovery at Inishkea West could be brought online quickly and would reduce Ireland’s reliance on imported gas. Domestic gas from Inishkea West would have significantly lower carbon emissions than imported gas from the UK, Norway or further afield.”

The programme for government contains a commitment to end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas which came into effect when this Government came into office and was placed on a statutory footing with the commencement of the 2021 Climate Act, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan said.

He added: “This ban on new oil exploration and extraction of gas sent a powerful message, within Ireland and internationally, that Ireland was moving away from fossil fuels towards a renewable future. By keeping fossil fuels in the ground, our focus since has been on incentivising and accelerating the transition to renewable energy – a policy which is beginning to see a significant increase in both wind and solar deployment and capacity. There are indications that renewables could account for over 40 per cent of our energy mix in 2023.”

Those who hold existing authorisations, such as the frontier exploration licence operated by Europa Oil & Gas in this case, were not affected by these changes, and so they may apply to progress their authorisations through the licensing stages towards a natural conclusion, he confirmed.

“This may include expiry, relinquishment, production or rejection. In this case, it is important to stress that this is not a new licence but is one that has been in existence since August 1st 2019 and the extension relates only to carrying out further technical desktop studies. It is not a petroleum lease,” Mr Ryan underlined.

The UK government is scaling up fossil-fuel extraction in the North Sea on the basis of increasing its energy security, but climate economist Prof Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Political Science has warned this approach could prove to be flawed and costly.

“The North Sea oil and gas is only really profitable if consumers in the UK and the rest of Europe continue to pay high prices for energy. But those prices will come down as the costs of renewables and electricity storage continue to fall,” he said in an opinion piece published this week by the Financial Times.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times